20th Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

6Seek the Lord and live,
  or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
  and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
7Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
  and bring righteousness to the ground!

10They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
  and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
11Therefore because you trample on the poor
  and take from them levies of grain,
 you have built houses of hewn stone,
  but you shall not live in them;
 you have planted pleasant vineyards,
  but you shall not drink their wine.
12For I know how many are your transgressions,
  and how great are your sins—
 you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
  and push aside the needy in the gate.
13Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
  for it is an evil time.
14Seek good and not evil,
  that you may live;
 and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
  just as you have said.
15Hate evil and love good,
  and establish justice in the gate;
 it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
  will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Psalm: Psalm 90:12-17

12So teach us to number our days
  that we may apply our | hearts to wisdom.
13Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry?
  Be gracious to your servants. 
14Satisfy us by your steadfast love in the morning;
  so shall we rejoice and be glad all our days.
15Make us glad as many days as you afflicted us
  and as many years as we suffered adversity.
16Show your servants your works,
  and your splendor | to their children.
17May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us;
  prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork. 

Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16

12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

  14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Gospel: Mark 10:17-31

17As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
  23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
  28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:

The Town Mouse & the Country Mouse

A Town Mouse once visited a relative who lived in the country. The Town Mouse ate very sparingly, nibbling a little of this and a little of that, and by her manner making it very plain that she ate the simple food only to be polite.

After the meal the Town Mouse talked about her life in the city while the Country Mouse listened. They then went to bed. In her sleep the Country Mouse dreamed she was a Town Mouse with all the luxuries and delights of city life that her friend had described for her. So the next day when the Town Mouse asked the Country Mouse to go home with her to the city, she gladly said yes.

When they reached the mansion in which the Town Mouse lived, they found on the table in the dining room the leavings of a very fine banquet. There the most tempting foods that a Mouse can imagine. But just as the Country Mouse was about to nibble, she heard a Cat mew loudly and scratch at the door. In great fear the Mice scurried to a hiding place, where they lay quite still for a long time, hardly daring to breathe. When at last they ventured back to the feast, the door opened suddenly and in came the servants to clear the table, followed by the House Dog.

The Country Mouse left:  “You may have luxuries and dainties that I have not,” she said as she hurried away, “but I prefer my plain food and simple life in the country with the peace and security that go with it.”

PRAYER:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer.

SERMON

         We are nearing the end of Pentecost and Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem and the cross.  We seniors understand “coming to the end of the journey.”  The questions are no longer what car to buy or whom to marry or which job will be the most fulfilling.  We want the world to be better for those who come behind.  “Legacy” is a word that is tossed around and perhaps the question, “What more can I contribute?”  Mark tells us that “a man” runs up to Jesus and kneels like others who approach Jesus desperate for healing.  We learn from other gospels that the man is wealthy and young.  He has youth, wealth, and a good character.  Odds are he was handsome too, princes usually are.  And yet he runs up to Jesus and asks a question that often is in our hearts, that overshadows our text today, and that subtly lies under our social, political, environmental and economic dilemmas in the USA.  We don’t call it eternal life but we quest for the good life, for salvation from the problems that plague us.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We are going to look at the request, the reservation, and the rewards for “eternal life”, for the good life.

1. Request

         Good Teacher:

         Our man approaches Jesus as a “good teacher.”  Jesus, as he often does, throws the request back to the man – and us.  Why does the man call Jesus, “good teacher” for only God is good?  Is eternal life or the good life for the good people only?  Must we become good to deserve the good life?  So often it seems that the goodies of life go to the “good” whether that be vaccinations or an easy life style. That is certainly human philosophy.  The law punishes those who are “not good” and perhaps rewards the good with rebates or tax breaks.  One of the questions through out Scripture is this tension of God blessing the good versus the suffering of the innocent and often undeserving.  The book of Job tackles that question as well as the Psalms of Lament.  Somehow we believe that if we were only good enough, God would reward us.  And so the man approaches Jesus as the “good teacher” or perhaps the teacher of good.

         Jesus says point blank:  only God is good.  Ouch.  That’s a bit blunt.  We are all sinners!  I’m not sure I heard a loud “Amen” to that.  I know you are a sinner but I’m trying hard to do life right! Right?  All have sinned.  We have all gone astray.  None of us see God face to face.  With God, it is not the hierarchy of who is better and who is best to determine the degree of blessing. We say, the ground at the foot of the cross is level.

         So did the man come to Jesus as a good teacher or as God?  We must look in our hearts and ask ourselves that question as we start today.  Are we here looking for a good sermon, a good teaching, or are we coming to Jesus as Son of God, involved in all aspects of our life, walking with us, working for our best?  We forget.  We come to worship today to remind ourselves that we are the creation and God is the creator.  We come to center ourselves on this truth.  Only God is good.

         What must I do…

         The man continues to ask what he must do.  What is my end of the deal?  Can we do nothing to procure our salvation?  We understand that “good” is a gift available to all because of Jesus on the cross.  I do nothing to receive the sunrise and sunset but open my hands in appreciation.  My husband would say, I receive it with two hands!  Our works are an outgrowth of our appreciation and love for the gifts of God.  I do not need to buy indulgences.  I do not need to tithe.  I do not need to sing in the choir.  I do not need to do great deeds of faith.  It is not what I do but what God has done.  A bit humbling!

         The apostle James in his epistle reminds us, though, “faith without works is dead.”  Faith that does not impact our lives is cognitive assent.  I may agree that Biden is our President but in reality, it makes little difference in my life.  I believe Jesus is God and my life is changed.  The principles that govern my life shift from self-centered, passion driven to God centered and blessing others.  What must I do?  Receive with both hands open and respond.  I open my hands to receive the good and I open my heart to trust that the hard days, the trials of life, come to me with a God who helps me cope, gives me wisdom and strength and walks with me to eternity.  The hard part is staying focused on God!

         …to inherit eternal life.

         The man wants to secure his inheritance.  The word “inherit” is a bit tricky.  We talk about what we receive from parents when they die, physical blessings.  Many of us can share our stories about the family squabbles over who got what and if the money was split fairly.  It seems our man sees eternal life as a reward in proportion to his actions in life.

          It makes me think of the man who gets to the pearly gates and is questioned by St. Peter.  I don’t see that you attended church, St Peter remarks.  The man replies that his wife did that.  St Peter asks about this and that and the man always replies that his wife took care of this and that.  You can guess who got through the pearly gates, the wife, not the man. We chuckle but for many this reasoning is real.  I often hear people say they feel they have lived the commandment to love neighbors and they believe that will be good enough.  Relationship with God is not the issue and they do not want to choose a church that might offend someone or worst yet, be boring or ask for money.  Eternal life is not a benefit of baptism or confirmation, for passing a test, or for coming from a long line of Lutherans. Having more things does not guarantee happiness. 1 Peter 1:3-5 shares:

            3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his      great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the      resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for    you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a          salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Only God is good.  We are sinners.  Salvation, the “good life,” is not about works but about faith.  Inheritance comes from relationship, relationship with God, and will be received in heaven.

2. Reservations, the “but”:

         Jesus then turns to the disciples and tells them that it will be hard for the wealthy to inherit the kingdom of heaven.  The disciples are perplexed and discuss further with Jesus.  If our blessings are a sign of God’s blessing then how can blessings be a big stumbling block to heaven?  The problem is not the blessings but that they become like a huge burden that a camel is trying to carry into Jerusalem. We begin to focus on our burdens and our progress.  It is not because of assets but because of the impact of those assets.  I know we are having a big – to be spelled capital BIG – debate about the Reconciliation Bill that is going to spend trillions without raising taxes because we are going to tax the wealthy to give a better life to the poor.  It sounds somehow reasonable and may work on paper but obviously half the country, or half the Senate anyway, is a bit dubious about this plan.  This sermon is not to be political but to point out that the confusion of the disciples resonates with us.  The good life and eternal life does not come from wealth or physical blessings.  The country mouse will not be happier by moving to the city.  It would seem that Jesus is saying that wealth is not a reward for our good behavior but a blessing to be used to bless others.  Let’s go back to the analogy.

         Jesus shares that it is easier for a camel to crawl through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter heaven.  Now, I don’t know if that is a picture or a gate into Jerusalem but it makes me wonder what needle we are trying thread today.  Perhaps we are pulling our hair out with health issues and the medical system.  Perhaps we are struggling with the limitations of aging.  The young are trying to figure out jobs and spouses.  There is no end to the dilemmas we face.  Often we feel like that camel with a load on our back, trying to crawl through the present mess for surely tomorrow will be better if we can get through today!

“Then who can be saved?” 

         The disciples respond, “Who then can be saved?”  How can we find the right answer that will bring us good?  Jesus is again very blunt, we on our own can’t do it.  We’ll botch it up every time.  What is impossible for us, only becomes possible with God.  Bethany is looking for a new pastor and we hear the feedback, no pastors coming out of seminary, finances are low, what and what, and it is possible to throw our hands up in the air and pull out our hair.  Are we factoring in God?  God can help us thread that needle.  God reminds the Israelites in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  We like that verse and it reminds us that when the clouds are the darkest, the impossible is possible with God, if we put our hand in his.

         Only God is good.  We are sinners and our world is corrupted with sin and death.  The good life that we strive for looks impossible to achieve by our own efforts but we must never forget that God is working, and often outside our boxes we put around him.

3.  Rewards

         Peter speaks out the question of our hearts, “What’s in it for me?”  Often following Jesus feels like loss and frustration as we face the trials of life and make choices we believe honor God.  Peter has left home and family.  We have refused bars and fudging on income taxes.  We have tried.  So many times we see in a glass dimly and we are not sure as we step into an unknown future. Can you hear that little evil voice in your ear, whispering, “Have you really done enough?”

         Jesus looked at the man kneeling before him and saw the sincerity of his heart and our text says, “Jesus loved him.”  WOW.  Jesus does not tell Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”  Jesus looks at how hard the man and Peter are working to do life right and has compassion.  Our rewards are not in the goodies of this world but are being held in the future and in a place where they will not become corrupted by sin and decay and old age.  Nor will they be taxed or lost in a stock market crash.

         “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or      sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for    the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and      fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. The country mouse hears about the wonderful life in the city with all sorts of goodies.  The mouse forgets the blessings of its life as it focuses on its cousin’s life.  So often we are like that little mouse or like the man kneeling before Jesus.  We know Jesus is the source of good and so we run to him.  What more must we do to get the good life?  Somehow we think that blessings come because of who we are and we forget that it is because of who God is.  God is good.  God is on the journey with us.  God is helping us thread the eye of the needle with our loads on our backs.  One day we will be rewarded with eternal rewards.  Jesus looks on us with love and says, “Don’t worry, I am with you, leading, guiding and rewarding. “  And the people of God said, AMEN!

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